Several companies have begun investing in sophisticated AI camera technology to track social distancing, mask-wearing, and other habits in their workplaces, according to various media reports.
The new cameras enable upper management to see workers and customers as well as insurers and regulators, while monitoring and enforcing social distancing and other related practices.
“The last thing we want is for the governor to shut all our projects down because no one is behaving,” said Jen Suerth, vice president at Chicago-based Pepper Construction, to Reuters.
Privacy activists are concerned at the decisions of many to utilize such technologies, however, the report said. They are concerned about increasingly detailed tracking of people and are also urging businesses to limit the use of the AI.
“The question becomes whether the tech remains after the public health problem goes away, and that is the real privacy fear,” said Al Gidari, a privacy expert at Stanford Law School. “Video in the store today to ensure social distancing remains to identify shoplifters tomorrow.”
Reuters spoke with 16 video analytics companies using the technology, and found that their complex systems can produce daily reports, which site managers can use to “correct recurring problems and document compliance.”
Most utilize a form of AI technology known as computer or machine vision, where algorithms are trained on image libraries to identify objects with confidence of 80% or higher. Some of these AI cameras are able to identify spots where workers are clumping together in busy areas, where they may be able to spread the coronavirus.
Using these high-tech cameras is said to be cheaper to analyze data than dedicating staff to watch employees for potential violations. Some guards enforcing social distancing have “clashed with people protesting safety measures,” the news source found.
One manager of the company Samarth Diamond interviewed by Reuters, Parth Patel, said that the technology will help managers report social distancing data to their superiors.
“It will surely be helpful for the safety of employees and their comfort level, and it will be helpful to show it to authorities that we are adhering” to regulations, Patel said.
“You can never have too much data on your hands,” said Brian Harper, CEO of RPT Realty.
Privacy concerns with AI technology for coronavirus
Despite Harper’s comment, others worry whether such tracking devices go too far in recording data and tracking employees’ every move.
Some startups are creating technology that tracks sneezing and coughing, which has drawn criticism from some experts according to the Reuters report.
Despite the technological advances being offered, businesses are concerned that the AI technology will trigger too many reports of false problems like families working close together in an aisle.
One particular AI camera system created by the company Landing AI uses an algorithm to calculate how far away each person is from one another.
In the video below, each green dot represents an individual who is in a “safe range” from others, the company says. The dots become red when a person less than six feet away, tracking them like a military style radar system in real-time.
If you get too close, the system could sound an alarm to remind everyone to keep their distance, the company said, or a second option could be to produce a report overnight that managers can use to “rearrange the workplace in a way that reduces workers’ chances of infection.” Amazon also announced earlier this month that it is using AI software to monitor building cameras to make sure employees keep their distance as well. Check it out in the video below and let us know what you think in the comments section.
Are these companies going too far by tracking our every move under the guide of “protecting us” from the coronavirus?